Shadow of Memories

Shadow of Memories (AKA Shadow of Destiny) is an old game. It was released in 2001 on the PlayStation 2, and ported to the PC a year later. Back in the day, I’d played through it with my (ex-)girlfriend watching the whole thing. We spent two weeks playing it over and over again, relishing in it’s “so bad it’s good” atmosphere and voice acting, its bizarre mixture of soap opera, science fiction, and videogame logic. We each cursed the stupid in-game camera for being an unwieldy prick, and we cheered when we’d figured out another puzzle.

It’s rare that a game gets under my skin, makes me think of it long after I’ve played it. Shadow of Memories is one of them games, when by rights it really shouldn’t be. Essentially, by any gamer standards, it’s fucking gash. It borrows the original Resident Evil controls and adds a sprint button which frequently fucks the camera up. The voice actors phone it in throughout. The puzzles are bizarre, and the time travel element often makes no sense whatsoever.

What makes it special though, is all of the above. The camera is hideous and unwieldy, and the controls are awful, and yet because of this the timed sections really add tension. You know you’re gonna have to wrestle the controls into submission in places, and this spurs you on. The voice acting is terrible, but it becomes endearing because of it. You get the impression that a couple of voice actors realised it was shit, and instead of doing dreary line readings, they decided to ham it up to fuck, and this ultimately makes their characters way more appealing than the others. Seriously, I defy anyone to not laugh at the lines “Hi, I’m Eike Kusch!” or “Bingo!” that occur within the first ten minutes of the game.

And the puzzles are probably the game’s biggest secret weapon. They may be daft, they may make no sense whatsoever, but they’re short and easy. Functional. They never out-stay their welcome, and the game’s flow is exceptional because of it. The game feels like a Doctor Who episode; it hangs around just long enough to pick up on the plot points (and give you a feel for each character’s personality) before moving onto the next location / set-piece.

Another remarkable thing about the game is the structure. It doesn’t take long to finish, and it doesn’t take long to realise it’s different on each play through. Eventually you build up the complete picture about what’s going on, and what started as an awkward cheesefest gradually becomes a gripping whodunnit, with a few terrific endings in there.

I read the other day that it’s coming to PSP soon. God knows how it’ll be on the handheld, or whether it’s structure will be a good fit for having a quick go on the way to work. It will probably tank and we’ll never hear from it again. Damn shame if it does, cos there’s some cracking entertainment in there.

(also, I got the PC version a while back, and it’s horrible, best stick with the PS2 version)

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